Like many cities around the nation, Portland saw thousands march in protest after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nine minutes in Minneapolis. And also like many cities, those protests didn’t always stay peaceful.
In a conversation on OPB’s “Think Out Loud” Monday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty discussed the challenges of managing heated protest in Oregon’s largest city.
Wheeler said he has had at least three conversations over the weekend with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, asking her to consider mobilizing the National Guard. Wheeler said that he’s not proposing for the militarization of Portland, but that National Guard troops would be on reserve.
“They will not be used unless absolutely necessary, but we just don’t have the police resources available…night after night to maintain the public’s safety,” Wheeler said.
Under pressure from Wheeler and U.S. Attorney Billy Williams early Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced later Monday that 50 Oregon National Guard members and 100 state troopers are heading to Portland as the city braces for a fourth night of protests. Brown said the National Guard would not be on the streets or making arrests. The soldiers will only be acting as support for the city of Portland police and the Oregon State Police troopers.
It’ll be the fourth night in a row of an official curfew, beginning at 8 p.m. Monday night through 6 a.m. on Tuesday, though both Wheeler and Hardesty acknowledged curfew is not maintaining order.
“I actually think we should be backing off on the curfew because clearly the case is having the opposite impact we’re wanting to have,” Hardesty said.
Wheeler said the curfew gave police flexibility, and that there were “legal reasons” to call for it.
“The curfew will not be enforced as long as things remain peaceful,” Wheeler said. “I think tomorrow we should actually reevaluate if it even makes sense to call for a curfew.”
Community organizer Lilith Sinclair with the Activism, Actually platform, emphasized that the protesters are pushing for action, not just a discussion.
“I think that Ted Wheeler is right, we don’t want dialogues…instead we want actions and results,” Sinclair said.
As an indication of the frustration many activists are feeling, Sinclair suggested “white privileged men” like Wheeler are part of the problem — and should be removed.
“I personally think that a great action step for Ted Wheeler would be to resign, in recognition of the fact that as a privileged, white, millionaire man that has a lot of learning to do,” Sinclair said. “Not only about what it means to take action on the demilitarization and defunding of the police, but also about the day to day lives and experiences of working-class people of all abilities and races that he can’t really connect to.”